BYU to host long-awaited Islam conference next week

A copy of the Quran sits on professor Grant Underwood’s desk. Representatives of the Islamic faith are to visit Provo next week to help the BYU campus community better understand Islam and its faithful followers. (Aubry Black)

Renowned scholars and religious leaders will converge on Provo this weekend for the long-awaited Islam conference taking place this Monday and Tuesday.

The conference, titled “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” has been years in the making according to Grant Underwood, Ph.D., the head of the Richard L. Evans Chair of Religious Understanding.

“There is a keen interest on the part of faculty on this campus and students, as well as senior leaders at the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to deepen our understanding of Islam and perhaps appreciate our Muslim friends more profoundly,” Underwood said.

Muslims across the world number almost two billion, making Islam the world’s second largest religious group. The conference’s website says the purpose of the conference is to “provide an intensive yet accessible introduction to key aspects of Islam” and the almost two billion people it represents. The information presented is meant to “make clear why such information is relevant, even essential, for informed citizenship today.”

The speakers attending the conference are among the most distinguished scholars of Islam in the United States. They represent a diverse range of the Muslim community, eight of the 14 speakers being women and two African American.

Tuesday night’s session will feature Elder David A. Bednar and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The topic of their presentation will be “Muslims and Latter-day Saints: Understanding One Another.”

All speakers have been specifically asked to move away from the academic focused lecture and present in a more TED Talks-esque fashion. This is meant to make the presentations more engaging and easily applicable for audience members.

“The BYU experience has instilled within our students a kind of open, questing mindset that says: ‘I want to learn about other cultures. I want to appreciate other religions,'” Underwood said. He spoke of how this natural curiosity of BYU students and Church members makes them an “ideal audience” for this conference as they seek to see the good, truth and beauty of Islam.

Along with the students and faculty who have been urged to attend, members of the Muslim community in Utah have also been personally invited. Underwood shared part of a conversation he had with a prominent Muslim leader in the area. This leader expressed his excitement for the conference, calling it a “singular event” of his 20 years of living in Utah.

The first session on Monday will begin at 9:00 a.m. and presentations will continue until 3:30 p.m.. At 11:30 a.m., speakers will address the topic of women and gender in the Islamic world.

The conference will continue on Tuesday and sessions will be held all day starting at 9:30 a.m. and end at 9:00 p.m. that night. Session topics will range from diversity in Islam to contemporary Islam politics. Elder Bednar and Elder Gong are scheduled to wrap up the conference with their presentations at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday night.

Individuals interested in the conference are invited to attend the sessions in person at the Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center. In addition, all sessions will be available via live stream on the Islam conference website.

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